Thursday, May 10, 2012

The soft breeze of Khalakhovo

Well, there you go. All quiet on the front. Looking around nervously I almost suspect an ambush of some chore  I must do, or some arrangement I've forgotten, know. All businesslike. But it seems that I finally can settle back in the couch at least until I doze off.

So, anyway, I finally finished Bradley P. Beaulieu's The Winds of Khalakhovo (The Lays of Anuskaya) (if that isn't a mouthful...also, uh, Anus-kaya...uh huhuh huh uh he he uh. Yeah noticed they are reviving Beavis and Butthead. Something tells me it won't work). Felt so good to finish it. Now, the reason I picked up this particular novel was because over at Pat's friendly Fantasy Hotlist it was touted as one of the best, if not the best, fantasy debuts of 2011. Sounded like something I had to check out relatively straight away. And I can understand it to some degree. The author packs in a decent amount of fun fantasy fluff, the main attraction being airships that follow leylines between island duchies, coating it all in a medieval Russian flavor (though the flavor is mostly relegated to naming conventions as far as I could tell), but for some reason I just couldn't latch properly onto the story and its characters. I was wowed during the first chapters, found the pace fast enough, the shiny new things shiny enough, but about halfway through I began to lose interest and the latter half of the book (which I had read was where things would pick up, actually) was really a slog. Now I can understand why Pat raved about it, because his website has turned into a place where publishers can advertise product and he doesn't really dare to be honest (this is my impression - not a fact I can verify; though you may note that nearly no books get lower than 7.5 points out of 10); after all, he is being given all these books to review and has become a pretty big ally for the fantasy publishing industry. And I wish him continued success, just to be clear.

But I am not affiliated with anything remotely decent, so I can be crude and harsh and unforgiving. Which doesn't make me feel good by the way. Because I could never write anything close to as cool as The Winds of Khalakhovo. Though I wish I could. If only the laziness could abate! Get thee behind me, laziness yadayada. I respect the author's hard work, you get the feeling the story has been cooking well and long and the author has labored blood and sweat and tears, yet somehow it just didn't grab me. Trying to figure out why, I come to the following conclusions: The characters - especially main main Nikandr - are a bit bland; but probably on purpose - this is more of an external story than an internal one. Rehada is perhaps the best realized character in the novel. The plot - this might just be me not being a native English speaker but I found it, at times, hard to follow the plot. Partially because mr. Bradley doesn't give me enough exposition on a number of important elements of his setting, especially the havahezhan-thingies (took me a while to realize what they were), the soulstones - how they work, why they work - the leylines, there's a lot of good setting stuff but, for once I should say, perhaps too little explanation. The side-characters are relatively flat and I never really cared about them, and the idea. War and assassination happens, but I'm not sure of the whys and hows; and finally, the whole plot revolves around a mute boy and his guardian (who I believe was supposed to be a wizard of some sort) yet we don't learn much. It's all a bit vague-ish. When I was reading the book's climactic final scenes I still didn't feel invested, even though I was presented with some cool fantasy imagery (particularly that of a small fleet of airborne boats flying through a blizzard); the story moves at one point in time, and...I could go on, but the more I write the more you'll reckon I'm clueless. Maybe a second, more thorough reading would give me a better understanding. I admit I glossed over the text at times, because the story couldn't captivate me enough. It's not like, say, A Storm of Swords where Martin grabs me by the whole body and yanks me inside his setting and I don't want to escape; it's not like Malazan where Erikson spends four books grabbing me but when he eventually does it's an amazing experience.

So, Khalakhovo has some good ideas (I must add that I loved the concept of these women floating about in icy cold water in order to connect with other minds and use magics), and if I'd understand the plotting I'd probably admire it too (there's a lot going on), but in the end it just doesn't come together well enough for me personally. If you've read it, feel free to post a comment about your own thoughts and feelings and let me hear if I'm way off the mark or echoing your own sentiments. I know this is the first in a planned series (aren't they all?) so maybe the author on purpose has left certain elements vague to be explored at a later point, but that doesn't help this book right now. So, with no publishers backing me up, I can (hopefully) safely say this book doesn't deserve more than let's say a 6 out of 10. Maybe 6,5. Aw now I feel bad. The concepts alone should probably add a point. The grammar and stuff is fine, too. Maybe I'm too harsh and Pat was right after all. But when I finish a book and am relieved to be done with it...It's got some great reviews at Amazon, but also some three-stars and even a one-star (which is very harsh). Guess I have to read those to see what other people think. And maybe find a plot summary somewhere.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand there we go again. Now I have to use the computer to look up holiday resorts. Lady Slynt wants to take me south. As far as south goes. But Slynt not like holidays in warm countries. Slynt like northern lands with ancient ruins and castles to visit.

Why hasn't anyone made a Middle-earth theme park yet? Or a Westeros theme park complete with pillories, dungeons, brothels, headman's blocks and big fricking wolves? Pig-riding dwarves, burn a doll version of the Hound's face, knightly tournaments, Slap-a-Joffrey-machines?There's a new idea for you George $$ Martin, in case those computer games, miniatures, comic books, coffee table books, T-shirts, waterlodged RPGs etcetera don't work out. /trollface


  1. I didn't finish the story. I stopped reading after the first few chapters because I just couldn't get into the story or its characters.

  2. Lol, well there you go :) I noticed that at Amazon there were similar views on the book, some people seemed to absolutely love it but there was a general agreement it was a too vague.